Kota tragedy unacceptable

Kota tragedy unacceptable

The unfolding tragedy at the Kota government hospital has evoked memories of the mass deaths of children at the state-run BRD hospital in Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh.

At least 104 infants have died in Rajasthan’s JK Lon government hospital in Kota since December 1. Another 101 died here in November while the death toll for 2019 was an alarming 940. None of the infants who died were suffering from incurable diseases. Most of the infants died due to suffocation at birth, low birth-weight and infections. Every one of these deaths was needless and could have been prevented had India’s public health infrastructure been in better shape. It has been reported that 320 of 533 pieces of critical medical equipment at the hospital, including ventilators, nebulisers, resuscitation machines, infusion pumps and heaters, were not functioning. At a time when Rajasthan is reeling under extreme cold wave conditions, the shortage of warmers and nebulisers would have severely impacted the health of newborns.

The unfolding tragedy at the Kota government hospital has evoked memories of the mass deaths of children at the state-run BRD hospital in Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh. Some 5,850 children are said to have died here in 2014, 6,917 in 2015, 6,121 in 2016 and 1,317 in 2017. While Japanese encephalitis is common in the area, it is the critical shortage of lifesaving equipment and facilities, especially oxygen supply, that cut short the lives. Non-payment of dues had forced the supplier to cut off delivery of oxygen cylinders to the hospital, critically impairing its ability to resuscitate its youngest patients. A probe into the Kota tragedy is likely to unearth similar inefficiencies and insensitivities on the part of public health authorities.

It is well-known that India’s public health system is in a critical condition. Delivery of services is poor and patchy; rural India is poorly served. Poverty and corruption further restrict the access of many Indians to hospitals. An important weakness of the system is the shortage of funds. Just 1.2% of GDP is allocated for public health and of this, only 26% is spent on procurement of drugs, vaccines and medical supplies. A sizeable chunk of this meagre budget is siphoned off by corruption. The tragedy at the Kota government hospital has evoked public outrage but this isn’t a situation that is restricted to one hospital, town or state. We need a country-wide audit of our public health care system to spot inefficiencies and inadequacies. Accountability must be fixed and those who weaken the system must be punished. Again, a booster dose of funds here and surgical procedures to cut wasteful expenditure there will make little difference. Our public healthcare system, which is in terminal decline, needs comprehensive treatment. Structural issues and underlying weaknesses cannot be ignored any longer. 

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